Project picture

Supporting staff to engage with service users

The Univeristy of Manchester

Project Summary

Provide research staff with support and resources to engage with the arc EU Research User Group (RUG).


Project Partners

Alison Littlewood
Senior Studies Coordinator (former)
Role Description:
Arthritis Research Campaign Epidemiology Unit (arc EU)
Nicola Dale
Senior Studies Coordinator
Role Description:
Arthritis Research Campaign Epidemiology Unit (arc EU)

Benefits & Impact

From the initial literature search the most useful website found was the INVOLVE website. We had previous experience of what INVOLVE could offer from when we were initially setting up the RUG, so we decided relevant information from them would be included in the tool, in particular their booklet specifically designed for researchers undertaking RUG involvement. When we contacted INVOLVE about current training courses available for staff, they were aware that this is an area which is currently deficient. The only course run by the NIHR CRN available is annually, but was not accessible during this project.

Key results of the initial staff survey were as follows:

Out of 100 members of staff 68 responded to the survey from all areas of work.

  • 90% of staff felt RUG involvement was worthwhile.
  • 50% had previously been involved in research which involved a user group, 44% had not and 6% did not know.
  • 56% were not aware the arc had a RUG.

The survey was useful in collecting information on staff knowledge of the arc EU RUG, and how much work we would need to undertake to publicise the group and the benefits associated with the group.

The meetings at Keele and Warwick were very successful in many ways. Both groups gave lots of useful information into how they had initially recruited members to the group and what format their meetings took. We were also able to take away some literature which both groups had designed for the researcher and RUG to use, this included feedback forms for use when reviewing material submitted by the researcher. Both research units had experienced a steep learning curve in involving a RUG in their research and it was useful to find out what problems they had incurred along the way and how they had addressed these. Although both groups had information on the intranet for their staff, neither group had experience of formal training courses for staff in Patient and Public Involvement in research (PPI) – which is definitely something worth exploring.

During the project three RUG inductions took place with new members of staff which were all been very successful. In particular, one of the researchers quickly met with the group to discuss their research. They also had the opportunity to use the new Research Guidance Form; this form is used to inform the RUG what the researcher wants them to assess and includes a section for the RUG member’s comments. By using this form we can now document researcher/RUG communication, how useful this has been and it will also help when disseminating information back to the RUG on how their input has improved our research.

We have developed the information tool, with all the information we have collected. Once the webpage was up and running we sent out a launch email, presented PPI and the intranet to the research group and held drop in clinics for those who wanted more information on how to access the RUG.

We will evaluate the impact of the online information tool by sending a final survey out to staff, and looking at the number of hits on the website. It was clear from our networking and visits that there is a lack of web based training toolkits available for staff – we would hope to continue work in this area with the ultimate aim of developing a training toolkit for arc EU staff.


"The RUG inductions have all been successful, and this is now something which all new staff undertake on joining the unit, so we are starting that cycle of embedding public engagement from the start." Alison Littlewood

Lessons Learnt

  • Over 50% of arc EU staff members were not aware that the Unit is actively involved in public engagement.
  • Networking with other research user groups provided examples of best practice and has been useful in developing the arc EU RUG.
  • Incorporating information about public engagement at staff induction is an important way of embedding cultural change within the department.
  • A short term (3 month) project can provide a strong impetus in effecting change.


A research user group (RUG) had been established within the arc EU since May 2009 though engagement with research staff had been poor. This was largely because staff were either not aware of what the RUG did, or did not fully understand the benefits of working with service users. It was decided to develop an information tool to allow staff to effectively engage with the user group.

arc EU research staff need’s included easily accessible information, time set aside to access the information package, a chance to ask questions, support throughout the initial engagement of the RUG in research and sustained support within the research cycle, as well as regularly updated information on issues of public engagement. The arc EU RUG members needed to feel their input was making a difference to the research output and was not tokenistic. The more informed staff were on how to engage user group members in their research then the more successful the two-way learning process would likely to be.

Aims & Objectives

We wanted to characterise the extent of arc EU staff members awareness and evidence of engagement with the arc EU RUG, and also develop ways to improve engagement with the RUG by researchers.

Through the new staff inductions and the development of the information tool we aimed to give staff the necessary information and skills to interact with the RUG and support them to undertake public engagement through the RUG. We also aimed to identify best practice in the area of staff training in public engagement with the goal of developing an interactive training tool for staff members in the future.


We were awarded a Manchester Beacon Development Award and in the first stage of the project we carried out a literature/internet search to find out how much information was available with regard to RUGs; in particular if there was any literature on information tools that other research groups were using to aid RUG interaction with their researchers. The search was useful in finding out what stages of research various RUGs were involved in, and some information on how a couple of groups had formed, but there was relatively little information on staff training, or how researchers were accessing the RUGs effectively.   

Following on from the literature search we sent out an anonymous web-based questionnaire to all arc staff to get an idea of how much interaction there had been with RUGs in the past and whether staff were aware that the arc had its own RUG.

Two other universities were visited in the course of the project - Keele University’s National Primary Care Centre and Warwick University’s Diabetes Network. Both of these groups had well established RUGs, which provided an ideal opportunity to find out how they had progressed from the initial set up.

From the information collected we intend to develop an information tool to be posted on the arc EU intranet which will provide staff with information about the RUG, its role, and the practical steps that researchers need to take to interact with the group.  The work will be undertaken by the arc EU web team after a new intranet project has been completed. We hoped also to gain an understanding of what would be involved in developing a training tool kit (Blackboard based) for staff members. We plan to resurvey staff after launch of the information tool.

In addition to the information tool we sought agreement from the Unit’s management team to include RUG in the arc EU induction process.